Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘observe’

Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with or to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer and don’t have clear rules around when your horse can expect food and when not to expect it. And how he can earn it (wait for the cue and answer the question right). The key to success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding.

Some ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat.

First of all the horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward and he has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the food. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food), sometimes he gets punished for it and other times ignored.

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging, to make your training safer: moving his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your fanny pack with goodies.

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him: standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming, back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on. Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With polite behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait politely until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments are the most reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
The trainer must present the food in a safe way to the horse and he must prove to the horse that he is trustworthy. People who are  easily scared by a horse that moves towards them and the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present food.

The trainer must always check that he has a reinforcer at hand before he uses his marker signal. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence wanted behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a very desired treat, with a high value for the horse it can increase frustration if it is not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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Best Basics: ZEN time with your horse

Now that the temperatures are much higher than in winter it becomes more enjoyable to spent some ZEN time with your horse. ZEN time is time spending together without having an agKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAenda. You can take a chair and sit down in his paddock or pasture and just see what happens.

Herd behaviour
I really like to observe Kyra in the pasture because I learn so much about her. I see how she interacts with other horses in the herd. I see who moves away when she approached, how their body language is helping them communicate and for which horse Kyra moves out of the way.

Grazing routines
I like to observe the way she eats: she grazes from left to right to left, then she takes one step grazes the next halve circle of grass. It is an interesting pattern.

When I hand graze Kyra I can see if she is hungry or not. If she is hungry she will not lift her head up for the first 15 minutes. She eats, eats, eats. If she is less interested in grass she will often lift up her head to look for the juiciest patches of herbs and grass and she takes more steps in between grazing.

If Kyra eats something distasteful, she will push it our of her mouth with her tongue or open her mouth real wide and let everything fall out. I can even see that she has have a favourite foot, because she puts it forward longer than the other one.

Just be together
Sometimes in ZEN time Kyra comes over and makse contact with me. The other day when I was sitting in the round pen and Kyra was just walking around, she came to me and sniffed my hair. I sighed and she did, too! Then I sighed again and she did another sigh. I wanted to test if it was a coincidence and took one more deep breath and exhaled loudly and she did too. We were really connecting, it was awesome. Then the magical moment was over and she walked away.

Hand grazing and walks
Sometimes ZEN time means I take Kyra out for a walk and I will let her graze wherever she wants and I let her decide what to do. You can learn so much by just observing your horse and seeing what he wants to tell you or seeing if he wants to connect.

Renske, Kyra's beschermengel

Renske was Kyra’s guardian angel when she was young

Other days I will watch Kyra without being seen so I am not interrupting her herd behaviour. If she sees me, she comes to the fence and will not interact the way she would without me.

Enjoy!
Being ZEN with your horse is a really nice way to relax and connect with your equine friend.

My tip for the weekend is: fill a nice picnic basket, bring a pen and paper to make notes or a camera and enjoy your horse in the sun for an hour or so, see what you can learn.

Sandra Poppema

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